J.K. Galbraith (1908-2006)

by Don Boudreaux on April 30, 2006

in History

John Kenneth Galbraith has died.  This Boston Globe account of his life is nicely done.

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{ 12 comments }

Matt McIntosh April 30, 2006 at 10:50 am

I like this:

– "I never imagined that there was any point to being an economist if no one was aware of what you were thinking," he once said. "Nothing so protects error as an absence of readers or understanding." [Except having legions of readers who don't understand your subject and hence aren't competent to correct your errors. -- Matt] Indeed, two of Dr. Galbraith's favorite novelists, Anthony Trollope and Evelyn Waugh, had a more discernible effect on his work than any economist did. –

That reads like a sly dig to me.

happyjuggler0 April 30, 2006 at 11:05 am

The absence of praise in the obit for his ideas is deafening. And correct, as one must not speak ill will of the dead in an obit.

But at the same time I was pleasantly shocked the Boston Globe had enough sense to realize he was a quack and to not put forth any of his ideas positively either. Things in MA must have changed since I left a few years ago.

Christopher Meisenzahl April 30, 2006 at 11:15 am

From the WSJ on JKG:

"There is no hope for liberals if they seek only to imitate conservatives, and no function either," Mr. Galbraith wrote in a 1992 article in Modern Maturity, a publication of the American Association of Retired Persons.

"In the end, it is the liberals who save the conservatives," he wrote, insisting that capitalism couldn't survive without social programs such as public housing, unemployment benefits and welfare for the helpless poor.

When Bill Clinton won the presidency in November 1992, Mr. Galbraith commented: "This gives me some hope for the economy. .. I think Clinton will present a substantive program for putting people to work through infrastructure work, and he'll get his tax increase because he's had a big win."

jason April 30, 2006 at 11:17 am

The WaPo article on JKG made me ill. They make it seem as if he saved America.

"Galbraith supplied the intellectual underpinning and moral support for Democratic efforts to extend the benefits of American prosperity throughout the population.

"In 1941, on leave from teaching, he took one of the top posts in the federal Office of Price Administration, playing a vital role in keeping the American economy thriving during the stresses of World War II ."

John Pertz April 30, 2006 at 12:43 pm

I dont really agree with much of this man's work. However, what I do admire is the style of economcis that he practiced. Instead of the a-political, high theory mathematical brand he chose a more practical rout of better trying to understand the world through economics. Instead of creating esoteric mathmatical models that have almost no real world relevance, he instead opted for a relevant analysis of the real world through economics. For this I applaud the work of Galbraith, no matter how much in error his observations were.

Patrick R. Sullivan April 30, 2006 at 2:50 pm

Absolutely one of the 20th century's most destructive public intellectuals. He help America adopt the worst of European economics–as he wrote the speech that LBJ used to introduce the Great Society programs that are the source of the looming budget catastrophe.

He also coined phrases–'private affluence, public squalor', 'countervailing power', 'the conventional wisdom'–that allowed people to be ignorant of elementary economics, but sound as though they weren't.

'A little knowledge is a dangerous thing' ought to be his epitaph.

At least he managed to provide George Stigler with an unending source of material, such as:

'…consumers generally determine what will be produced and producers make profits by discovering more precisely what consumers want and producing it more cheaply. Some may entertain a tinge of doubt about this proposition, thanks to the energy and skill of Professor Galbraith, but even his large talents hardly raise a faint thought that I live in a house rather than a tent because of the comparative advertising outlays of the two industries.'

liberty April 30, 2006 at 6:00 pm

I have been looking for some quotes of his where he predicted the success of the Soviet Union in out-producing the USA. Do any of you know where I can find them? (God Rest His Soul).

Knud Berthelsen April 30, 2006 at 6:19 pm

One of the quotes you are looking for is to be found at http://www.adamsmith.org/blog/index.php/blog/john_kenneth_galbraith/

Swimmy April 30, 2006 at 8:30 pm

I like Greg Mankiw's post.

"I have long been a fan of Galbraith as a person, even though I disagree with almost all of his conclusions as an economist."

http://gregmankiw.blogspot.com/2006/04/john-kenneth-galbraith.html

DeLong's year-old article ( http://www.j-bradford-delong.net/movable_type/ ) strikes me as very off. The reason Galbraith has lost popularity isn't just because he failed to write about math. Many of his predictions were plainly wrong, and many of his policy recommendations were empirically harmful. One can't dismiss these issues by criticizing economic modeling.

Still, his political philosophy makes things more complicated. I've always been Hayekian, but it doesn't confound me that someone would prefer Galbraith.

Ann May 1, 2006 at 3:08 pm

"he'll get his tax increase because he's had a big win"

Since when is 43% of the vote in a year with low turnout a "big win"?

Helen May 10, 2007 at 5:50 am
automatic mechanical movement second sweeping September 26, 2007 at 2:01 am

My mind is like a fog, not that it matters. I just don't have much to say these days. That's how it is. I haven't been up to anything recently.

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